Max Euro Challenge
Round 1 - Salbris, France - 25th/26th March 2006
Salbris sets the pace for the 2006 Euro Challenge.
Sologne Karting Circuit south of the French capital Paris welcomed a fantastic start to the ROTAX MOJO Max Euro Challenge last weekend (25th/26th March). If this is any indication of the events to follow, the competition should be outstanding, with some exciting racing in the first round of the series.
The rain failed to stop 141 eager Rotax drivers from taking to the newly resurfaced Salbris track, as official practice got underway on the Wednesday. This year there are four classes being contested for the title, along with a manufacturer’s trophy up for grabs in each category. As the Euro Challenge becomes more popular, many individuals and even more teams have returned in 2006 for some of the World’s best Rotax kart racing.
Senior Max attracted 65 entries in the opening round, with last year’s polesitter Tiago Ribeiro (Intrepid/Kronos Motorsport) of Portugal again setting the pace in qualifying. He was very optimistic coming into the meeting, as were the 2nd and 3rd quickest drivers Toms Bobrovskis (Gillard/PDB Belgium by DFK) from Latvia and Wesleigh Orr (Swiss Hutless/Gem Sport) racing for Belgium.
Belgian driver Michiel Beutels (Zanardi/Schepers Racing Services) took three wins from three in the heat racing, together with Australian Ben George (Intrepid/Team V), Mike Joossens (KombiKart/Hugo Motorsport) from the Netherlands and Wesleigh Orr with one a piece. With the wet conditions on this fast track, many drivers found it difficult to avoid mistakes but it provided some really interesting racing for the spectators. As expected, the 2nd chance race was full of plenty of action and drama which continued until the very last lap, seeing a few surprising exclusions for some of the potential front-runners.
The sun came out for Sunday’s racing and after a restart in the pre-final, the competition got pretty intense on the track. The field was scattered with some of the quickest drivers from the front of the grid to the back, when it came to the business end of the meeting. British driver Martin Pierce (Tony Kart/Passion Racing) was off grid one, fighting for the lead with Cenel America (KombiKart/Hugo Motorsport) of the Netherlands, as Orr passed both to move into the lead. He dropped a chain, having to stop for repairs which gave America a free run.
However, the battle for places continued for most of the 15-lapper, with the Dutchman holding on for the chequered flag from his team mate Joosens. Pierce had fought hard but lost his podium finish as local French pilot Anthony Cout (Biesse/FLP) covered his line. 5th place went to another Dutch driver Chris Maliepaard (CRG/CRG Holland) who had a well-deserved result considering he had to qualify through the 2nd chance race. For Cenel America, this is just the beginning of his ambition to add the European Rotax title and the Rotax Max Grand Finals to his success already as 10 times Dutch Karting Champion.
Mats Van den Brand (Energy/Team TKP) put in a spectacular effort as the only driver out of the 39 Junior Max field to clock faster than a 1.18 lap time in the rain for qualifying practice. The tiny driver from the Netherlands was almost a full second clear of the next quickest of the juniors Jack Hawksworth (Gillard/Protrain Racing) of Great Britain and France’s Maxime Jousse (Redspeed/New Service Racing).
Following a 2nd place at last year’s Salbris Euro Challenge round, it was definitely Van den Brand’s weekend, completely dominating every race from start to finish. “I didn’t think I’d have such a strong lead in the dry but when it rained I knew I could be fast.” Mats said he was very happy with the result, driving in a new team with a new chassis which was all perfect this weekend. Jack Hawksworth seemed to be the biggest threat to his success, winning 2 heats but in the final had to be satisfied with 6th. Young Estonian karter Kevin Korjus (Zanardi/AGS Racing Team) also won a heat but found the battle too fierce to repeat his performance in the final.
Van den Brand now goes into round two with the series lead. Across the finish line, Phillip Haworth (Tony Kart) from England held onto 2nd in the final ahead of the vice champion from the recent Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals, Daniel Schellnegger (Intrepid/Team V) of Austria. Dutch team mate of the winner Niek Vos (Energy/Team TKP) was only inches from making the podium, driving well to be just out of the running during the entire meeting, while 5th place went to Latvian driver Kristaps Gasparovics (Gillard). The Junior Max reflected what was evident last year with more very competitive racing, unfortunately some of the better drivers suffered poor results in the wet conditions.
A new edition to the ROTAX MOJO Max Euro Challenge is the Masters (or 32 years+) class, which has given the more mature competitors a chance to race together at an international level like they may on a national scale in many countries. Colin Davis (Tony Kart) from Great Britain was clearly fastest and qualifying saw him take the number one position on the grid for all the heats Saturday. Two French drivers were split by a fraction to be the next fastest, Sebastien Bernard (Sodi/Race Team BRK) and Dany Moriceau (Tony/Kart Racing Organisation).
Davis was looking forward to the Masters’ racing, which had 21 entries for the initial Euro Challenge event and is anticipated to grow during the series. “I can’t fault the weekend and the meeting is very well-organised. We came here with high hopes to do well, the kart has been brilliant to drive all thanks to my technician and it’s a brilliant start to the series. ”The British driver was on a flyer, with a clean sweep Saturday of all heats and then taking the win in both finals Sunday.
After some turn 2 action in the first lap of the decider, several of the drivers likely to place in the top 5 had to watch the racing from the infield, out of contention. Behind the leader the racing was fast and furious, only giving Davis a further advantage to increase the gap. From Belgium, Christophe Adams (Swiss Hutless/Gem Sport) fought hard for 2nd for much of the race with Moriceau who came in 3rd and unplaced Remon Hannink (Haase/Eiks Racing) of the Netherlands. Leon Marc (Sodi/Kart Runner) and Jerome Vasterman (Gillard/VZ Bouwcombinatie) both from the host country took 4th and 5th respectively.
The honours in Salbris for the newly launched Rotax DD2 category went undisputed to Wesleigh Orr (Swiss Hutless/Gem Sport). As the winner of the 2004/2005 Rotax World title in the former RM1 gearbox class, Orr is originally from South Africa but now lives in Belgium. He was also one of the few drivers who competed in the DD2 class and one of the Senior Max classes in France over the weekend. Orr claims it gives him a greater challenge to improve him driving ability, having to adapt to the different driving styles needed to do both.
Following the qualifying session when he set the fastest time for the day in the wet, Orr said “It was important for me to qualify well but I had some front-end problems which made it difficult for me to drive the kart. Now we can still improve the set-up but at least I will start on the front row for the heats.” He believed the other South African and last year’s Junior Euro Challenge winner Arnold Neveling (PCR/PCR) would be very good in the dry conditions, but Neveling also showed in qualifying that he was also fast when it rained, with the 2nd best time. Out of the 17 kart line-up, Australian Ben George (Intrepid/Team V) was 3rd fastest and joined the others at the front in the top 3 for all heats. Orr won two of the heat races, while Neveling snatched the lead on the last lap in the other.
The final belonged to Orr, though Neveling’s speed and precision driving gave him the edge on Toms Bobrovskis (Gillard/PDB Belgium by DFK), who was one of the winners at the Austrian Round of the Euro Challenge in 2005. Having to start from grid 5, George was unable to match the pace of the leaders and managed to make it 4th on the day, from the Hungarian DD2 driver Gerry Hargitai (CRG/Hargitai Racing) and Miltos Kirkos (Rotax RM1/Kart Shop Hochhauser) from Greece.
Not only did the sun come out for the first round of the ROTAX Euro challenge in Salbris, but the many spectators were not disappointed that turned out to watch the competition get underway. The second stage of the series will move to another famous track, being held at the South Garda Karting Circuit in Lonato, Italy from 17th - 21st May. Entries are already filling and close mid-April, for what should be not only warmer, but an even more competitive event in the heart of European karting.
All the racing action and driver interviews from the Euro Challenge in France can be seen across Europe Thursday, 30th March at 8pm (BST) on RaceWorld TV. Visit www.raceworld.tv for all the details of how to tune in and also to watch a replay of the finals over the Internet. Just click on “video” for the race you want to see.
For a complete list of all results from the Salbris round, go to www.kart-data.de and see all sessions from the start of official practice.
The results of the championship so far can be found at www.rgmmc.com from Friday, 31st March 2006.
Results – Round 1
Rotax Senior Max
1 – Cenel America - Netherlands - KombiKart/Rotax/Mojo
2 – Mike Joossens - Netherlands - KombiKart/Rotax/Mojo
3 – Anthony Cout - France - Biesse/Rotax/Mojo
Rotax Junior Max
1 – Mats Van den Brand - Netherlands - Energy/Rotax/Mojo
2 – Phillip Haworth - Great Britain - Tony Kart/Rotax/Mojo
3 – Daniel Schellnegger - Austria - Intrepid/Rotax/Mojo
Rotax Max Masters
1 – Colin Davis - Great Britain - Tony Kart/Rotax/Mojo
2 – Christophe Adams - Belgium - Swiss Hutless/Rotax/Mojo
3 – Dany Moriceau - France - Tony Kart/Rotax/Mojo
1 – Wesleigh Orr - Belgium - Swiss Hutless/Rotax/Mojo
2 – Arnold Neveling - South Africa - PCR/Rotax/Mojo
3 – Toms Bobrovskis - Latvia - Gillard/Rotax/Mojo
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